Milan have turned to their past in hiring Clarence Seedorf. Luca Cetta examines the decision to appoint someone who until the weekend was still a player.
With one Press conference a glittering playing career was stopped in favour of a journey into the unknown. It happened in Brazil but was of keen interest to those in Italy. Clarence Seedorf was trading his boots for a suit. “I am here to announce that I will retire from playing after 22 years. It has been a difficult decision, but I am satisfied with what I have achieved in my career and what I have done here at Botafogo.”
A sudden retirement. But there was a key motivation behind it. Milan had come calling. “I could not say no to Milan after spending 10 years with the Rossoneri,” Seedorf would add.
Massimiliano Allegri had already given word of his departure set for June, but Sunday’s incredible 4-3 loss against Sassuolo hastened his exit. The club felt they had to act immediately. Barbara Berlusconi noted on Sunday night it was: “necessary and urgent to make a change.” Change they did.
For club and Coach it’s perhaps better this way. Something was clearly awry this season. The Rossoneri collected just 22 points in the first half of the campaign. Only five wins. They sit in 11th. Allegri can now rest his weary neck – one which had been resting on the chopping block for over a year.
For Seedorf it’s a return to the club which brought him great success as a player. The Dutchman was a midfielder of supreme talent. Technically gifted, cool on the ball and with a keen eye for the game around him. In his later years Seedorf was a locker room leader. Does that translate to the coaching arena? He thinks the time at Botafogo will serve him well: “This experience of the last year and a half has made me grow up a lot and will help me in my next step, as Coach of Milan...”
What can Seedorf bring to Milanello? He’s a fresh face. He was, until recently, still a player and so knows the modern footballer and game. More importantly, he was a winner and can instil that into the current group. “He knows the environment,” said assistant Coach Mauro Tassotti. “I hope that there is a change of mentality and a return to the old values.” This may be the jolt the players need, a reminder of which shirt they wear.
“I am sorry for Milan but, if Seedorf arrives, he can do very well on the Milan bench,” ex-teammate Thiago Silva stated. “Clarence is sure to change the mentality, because he is a serious person, capable of change.” Carlo Ancelotti also praised the former Dutch international: “I know Clarence very well, he was always a player who showed huge personality. I’m sure that he has the knowledge and ability to do anything in the world of football.” It seems those who have worked alongside Seedorf have nothing but praise.
Conversely, the reins of one of Italy’s most glittering clubs have been handed to a person with no coaching experience. And at a delicate time. As it stands, Milan are 20 points from third spot and have a difficult upcoming Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid to negotiate.
Former Milan star Ruud Gullit admitted ‘surprise’ over the move. Seedorf walks into the role bereft of time. Things have happened so quickly. There was no pre-season to drill his ideas into the squad, rather it’s straight into the action with little time for experimentation. He’s expected to be joined by former teammates Hernan Crespo and Jaap Stam, the latter with two-and-a-half years’ experience as an assistant Coach. And there’s Tassotti, who has been in his current role for over a decade.
The new boss needs his big players to shine. From veteran Christian Abbiati through to Ricky Kaka, captain Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel de Jong, Philippe Mexes and Mario Balotelli. The latter duo must show greater discipline. The arrival of Keisuke Honda and Adil Rami, plus the return from injury of Giampaolo Pazzini, boosts the squad.
Interestingly, last May the Curva Sud released a statement against the appointment of “Seedorf or others who have zero experience on the bench.” Two days later ultras unfurled a banner outside Milan’s headquarters: ‘Seedorf, no grazie’. How will fans react to this move?
Ancelotti argued this is nothing new for Milan. They appointed Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello in the past and it worked out well then. True, but the pair had spent some time on various benches when Silvio Berlusconi came calling and they had fantastic squads too. Seedorf is only allowed into the role due to special dispensation. He does not yet have his coaching badges.
So what will constitute a successful half-season for Seedorf? A trophy – most likely the Coppa Italia – would be nice, but importantly there must be signs of improvement.
The appointment has Berlusconi – Silvio and Barbara – written all over it, so the new tactician will have support. That should help on the summer transfer market. For now, Milan fans will be happy the Allegri saga finally reached its conclusion. Now the Rossoneri goes forth with a legend. They’re hoping he’ll sprinkle some of his playing magic on to the current lot.